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A fresh perspective on the personal and political.

My Notebook May 4, 2011

Filed under: Beauty,Family,LGBTIQQA,Mental Illness,Politics,Writing — mandolyn10 @ 6:14 am

I’m doing my best to write something each day. I may miss a day or two or more, but the point is to do it as often as I can. I will only publish my notebook once a week. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The sun, as it dipped below the horizon, pushed long shadows eastward across the hills, and as those darkening fingers stretched to cover the land in shade, I longed for more daylight. More hours to write as though I actually plan to make career out of writing, more time to unpack from the trip I got back from three days ago (and to hang the laundry I did before I left). Just enough more sunny moments to go for a hike or a run or meditate on my porch. I only needed a bit more bright, promising time to not feel so penned in by all I haven’t done before bedtime. I was asked yesterday, “How do my expectations limit my sense of freedom?” A part of me expects I will always be this occupied, this stressed out, that I forget I can at least, pretend I have a sense of freedom. So today, instead of rushing from work to work out to grocery shopping to dinner and then writing, I walked slowly to my car after work, drove the speed limit to the Farmer’s Market, and meandered from stall to stall. I tasted, for the very first time in my life, the grassy, sweet-fresh taste of fava leaves. I lifted small, creamy spoonfuls of Vanilla Macadamia Nut sorbet to my mouth, which I bought to eat before dinner. I stood in the sun for a few minutes, listening to a string band and watching the hippies dance. The loosening feeling didn’t last, not even until sunset, but it was a good, free-feeling, unexpected hour.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

On my run, I was listening to an episode of This American Life. The last story was about a 67 year old widow, Emily, and her 39 year son, Scott, who has autism. Though perfectly healthy, this mother knows she won’t always be around, so, with the help of a low-interest government loan for people with disabilities, she bought her high-functioning son a house across the street from hers. She wanted to provide him a trial “live-alone” experience before she dies. There were certainly some bumps to getting him independent, but she had already taught him to cook, to do his own chores, to drive, and buy his own groceries. He seemed to be managing day to day tasks well after a while.

Her biggest worry was that his fear of social interaction would lead to isolation, and that if he spent long stretches alone, he would sink into depression, which had happened before. So she embarked on a campaign to recruit volunteers to check in on him once she dies. For weeks she listed on craigslist, posted fliers at local restaurants, cafes, schools, community centers, senior centers, event he mayor’s office. Her efforts were fruitless, and her panic about leaving her son alone grew. It seemed that the story would end on this hopeless note, and just when my heart was aching for this woman and her son, and for my 69 year old mother and my 36 year old mentally ill brother, who has only ever lived in her house. But then, like rain breaking across dry, thirsty, land, the story ended like this:

(His fear of being social) is another roadblock, but for now, maybe it doesn’t matter. Scott’s been doing more and more on his own. He’s actually reaching out to his neighbors for help, all without Emily. Just having the house has changed him, made him more confident, and even more sociable. A few weeks ago when he was out raking leaves, he knocked on the door of his 84 year old neighbor, and offered to rake her yard, too. He asked another neighbor, a guy he barely knew, to help him haul a table, and the guy said, “Sure.” He started to really rely on a man across the street. A bunch a times, Scott’s even sat on the guy’s front steps late at night, chatting with him about real stuff, like Scott’s frustrations. And the other day, when the guy heard Emily was going away for a few days, he offered to look in on Scott. Emily didn’t even need to ask. 

I started crying around the raking his neighbor’s fornt yard part. My mom can’t afford to buy a house for my brother, but he could afford to move to an apartment somewhere before my mom dies. What made me so hopeful that I burst into tears was that just being independent from his mother helped this man be more self-sufficient, more sociable. Living with his mother had kept him from developing the skills to live on his own. My mom worries like crazy about what will happen to my brother when she dies or if he lived on his own, but I’m not sure she yet believes that he could make it, that it could well be the best thing for him to do.

But tonight, as I listened to this story, I wanted to call her and play the story for her, to show that when given the opportunity, even people with significant challenges can rise way above our fear-lowered expectations. But we’ll never know if my brother can live on his own successfully if we, as a family, don’t encourage him to try.

Friday, April 29, 2011

I suppose any inexperienced non-fiction writer/personal essayist thinks she has too few interesting life experiences to write a whole book about, but it occurred to me tonight that perhaps the problem is perspective.

I went to see a movie tonight, called Rejoice & Shout, about the history of Gospel music. I was totally riveted and absorbed. I loved, loved, loved learning about the roots of the music I sing as a part of my choir.  At one point, they showed a program that featured a smiling picture of the robust, incomparable Mahalia Jackson, a program from a performance she gave at Carnegie Hall. I thought, “Hey! In less than a year, I’m going to sing on the same stage as Mahalia Jackson! Holy Shit!” It hit me how absurd and unlikely it is that I was so into this movie. Ten years ago, if anyone had told my sometimes atheist, sometimes agnostic self that within a decade, I would believe in something more than just me or human nature; that I’d be singing in a church choir, preparing for a performance of Negro Spirituals at Carnegie Hall, I would have laughed mockingly at them until I peed my pants.

If I can look at my life from the outside, as if I am not the one living it, it’s a fair bit less tedious than it can feel, and certainly provides enough material for good writing.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I have just deleted an hour’s worth of writing on the disgust with which I learned about the raucous, frat-party like celebrations that followed the announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death last night. Yes, I am disheartened, disappointed once again to be represented by shallow thinking Americans who grab the media’s attention, but it’s not worth writing about anymore.

What touched me much more deeply this weekend than the killing of the mastermind of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the event which made me feel proud to be American, the thing that deepened my engagement with making this world a better place, was . It was a student production I attended on Saturday night called Queer Fashion Show.

Part fashion show, part social commentary, part dance performance, this show was funny and heart wrenching, edgy and sweet. The student performers were not just putting on a show, they were sharing what it’s like to live outside of society’s expected roles, warts and all. They did it with bravery, commitment, passion, vulnerability, resolve, and a zest for life. One of those students was Zack, a senior who I supervised last year. He was one of the directors of QFS this year and there is little else comparable to seeing students you have worked so closely with excel, educate others, and have a blast doing it.

So although the very next night, college students in DC poured into Lafayette Park to cheer the murder of a fellow human being (I know, an evil one, but still human), I am heartened that it is not only them who are inheriting this society. The sixty or so students who took to the stage at QFS this past weekend represent legions of other young people who have a vision of a more inclusive, peaceful world.  They give me reason to hope that all is not lost.

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Spring is here in full swing, with wildflowers screaming from the roadsides and paths I jog and walk, the sun falls warmly on my skin as I walk deliberately slow to work, the breeze comes in off the bay alternately cool and warm, in a way that I think of as uniquely Santa Cruz. It was so pretty my chest felt heavy with relief that winter is over and summer is around the corner.

Perhaps it’s the promise of summer that triggered a startling longing in me. Summer, with it’s break from Monday night meetings and Tuesday night choir rehearsals feels like a much too distant haven where I have time to things like dishes and watering the plants.

Six weeks left, more or less, but as I look down my nose toward the middle of June, it feels like six months.


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